CakeFilter: Help me be your ideal bake-sale-stall.
May 20, 2010 7:44 AM   Subscribe

Help me have the bestest cake stall at my work's charity fundraiser! Difficulty: I would like to raise a ton of money AND win the (completely imaginary) prize as Coolest Baker Ever. Suggestions for both cake ideas and aesthetic stall aesthetics welcome.

I've signed up for a cake stall at my work's annual charity fundraiser in July. Problem: I've never done this before!

We're expecting about 2,000 people to attend. I'm not expected to feed them all and there will be many other stalls, including (more than likely) a number of other cake stalls: these I regard as competition! There is an initial £30 charge for the stall (all of which goes to the charity) and I am allowed to keep whatever money I make. I'm not looking to make a profit, though; after I cover my costs I'll be donating the rest of the takings back to the charity. Hence, the less money I spend, the more money the charity makes.

I'm being provided with a trestle-style table and, if I want it, electricity. I can either be outside on the grass (the event is being held on my rather enormous work-campus) or inside a marquee. I'm planning on taking the two days before the event (it's on a weekday) as holiday so I will have plenty of time to make things! I would, if needed, have access to one willing helper during the baking-phase. I'm a pretty experienced baker (though not in this sort of volume!) so let's assume I have both the skills and the equipment required to make any recipe, and that I might be willing to invest in new multi-purpose items, like a candy thermometer, but not unitaskers, like bundt pans. I will have access to a Costco and any number of UK supermarkets, and I have time to order online.

I would like to split the table into two sections; an 'eat now' and 'eat later' style. 'Eat now' will be things like cupcakes, brownies, cookies, sponge cakes, rocky road. 'Eat later' will be similar things in little (gift) bags; gift-jarred brownie mix; maybe cobbler in a jar. I imagine my target audience to be the sort of twentysomething girls who like pretty cupcakes (i.e. me); and older ladies who don't want to be too adventurous. I don't think there will be any children allowed on the day, but these people probably have children. I need to strike a balance between 'things which will sell but are slightly dull' and 'things so outre that no one will buy them'!

So, Hivemind! Please help me decide:

1) With these restrictions in mind, what should I make?! I am looking for either recipes or suggestions (including any combination of: cheap to produce; easy to make; no-refridgeration; take-home-able; and/or fun and unique-looking) OR advice: what would YOU buy at The Best Cake Stall Ever?

2) What am I forgetting? Do I need to find a way to keep this food cool? (It will be the height of the British summer so we can pretty much assume it'll be raining.) Do I need to decorate the stall? Should I have music? Is it worth trying to figure out how to sell drinks? Is there some secret, amazing place to buy cheap jars for the take-home section? Should I provide some vegan options? Gluten-free?

I've checked out the tags and can't find anyone who's ever asked such a helpless question before (though this has given me some great, simple ideas) - forgive me if I've missed anything!

Thanks in advance for your help, everyone! An imaginary (vegan, gluten free) cookie goes to you all!
posted by citands to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I think it would be really cool to have some sort of theme, and dress up to match. Music would be great. We have several new food trucks in our area, and a lot of them are trying to stand out by being fun instead of just functional.
posted by JoanArkham at 8:08 AM on May 20, 2010

I'd go to or and search for cakes, cookies, etc for some unique ideas.
Best of luck!!!
posted by Neekee at 8:11 AM on May 20, 2010

I suggest using these:

and this:

ALWAYS have glittery cupcakes. Always.
posted by greenish at 8:13 AM on May 20, 2010

Cake pops are pretty easy and would be cute "eat now" items.
posted by waterlily at 8:29 AM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

People eat with their eyes. You'll be able to charge more for artfully-decorated cupcakes. You'll also be able to make more money with cupcakes than cakes. Other thoughts:

* When we had our bakery, red stuff always sold: red velvet cake, raspberry scones, etc
* Frosting shots? Maybe too trendy, but you could get a decent profit (1 pound per shot?)
* Bars (goldies, lemon bars, brownies, etc) will help you get the most for your money. If you're making thick brownies, charge more, as you'll get less out of a batch. Use a 1/2 sheet pan (UK equivalent?) and you should be able to get 20 bars/brownies out of it. (It's been years and I don't have one in front of me, but I think our bars were 3'1/2" by 2")
* Avoid buttercream if you'll be outside; bars and cookies are a better idea
* Scones! Some savory (ham and cheese, spinach and cheese) as well as sweet
* Crackers can be baked well ahead of time and packaged (rosemary, lavender, etc)
* Shortbread
* Biscotti
posted by Atom12 at 8:33 AM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Vegan / dairy free / gluten free options are always a good thing. Make sure you know what's in everything you're selling! Not all margarine is dairy-free, not all raspberry jam is strawberry-free. Don't be offended by people asking!

For the layout of the stall, work out some way of escaping from a totally plain, flat table - even if it's just a pile of boxes covered in a sheet, structure (especially if covered with sparkly cupcakes, oh yes) will catch peoples eyes from further away.
posted by Lebannen at 8:54 AM on May 20, 2010

Here are some hints I've come up with from years of having booths at art shows:

Music: Always have music playing. After countless shows, I've discovered two artists that work: To create a feeling of "There's a party going on in this booth! Quick, get over here and see what's going on!", then you should play the Squirrel Nut Zippers. What I did was go through their first two albums and make a mixtape of all the upbeat, fast tempo songs. "Hell" is a good song, so is "Suits are Picking Up the Bill".

The other type of music is relaxing, ethereal, "I want to stay in this booth forever because it's so relaxing!" music. For this, you want Patrick Ball, who plays Celtic Harp music. But not just any Celtic Harp music will do; it has to be Patrick Ball.

I wish I could provide links to these artists, but I'm at work with limited access. :( In any case, trust me on these two artists - I've tried all kinds of variations, but these two are what create sales. Personally, I would suggest going with the Squirrel Nut Zippers for your event. Put the music on continuous replay, even if you get tired of it.

For the booth itself: put some sort of pole on either side of your booth at the front. Bamboo poles, PVC pipe, something like that. If you're outside, then bamboo can be stuck in the ground. Then get some silk flower garlands - wisteria vines work best - and wrap them around the poles, and across the top of one pole to the other. In other words, you want to create an entrance to your booth that is basically an upside-down "U", make out of flowering vines. (if you can get real ones, that would be even better.) Of course, if you have a canopy/tent type thing, you would just wrap the support poles and stretch the vine from one support pole to the other.

Packaging: at a charity bake sale I did once, this was the most popular item: A woman had made a huge batch of chocolate cookies. She put 2 cookies each into a clear, crinkly cellophane bag, and tied it closed with pink curly ribbons. Then she got a huge wicker basket (like an Easter basket, but enormous) and filled it with pink Easter grass type stuff - but not the plasticky clear kind, this was something natural, like shaved wood or something. She piled the cookie bags in the basket, topped the basket with more pink curly ribbon, and then we displayed the whole thing on a raised pedestal on the table. They sold out ridiculously quickly, while a lot of the other stuff just sat there. Partly it was because two cookies are cheaper than a whole cake, and partly because, with everyone on a diet these days, they could justify themselves a little treat a lot easier than a whole cake. Cupcakes would probably do just as well. I would suggest having your curly ribbon and Easter grass match the color of your silk flowers, or at least be in the same family (i.e., all pastels)

Other hints: Small free samples will increase your business a lot.
Use risers on your table to create different levels. This can be done very simply, by placing cardboard boxes on the table and then covering everything with a tablecloth or solid, neutral colored sheet.
People are sometimes psychologically resistant to "entering" a booth. Make it so they don't have actually enter, by putting your tables right up front at the edge of your booth.
If you have some sort of pretty floorcovering that you don't care if it gets dirty, put it on the floor of your booth. Again, this should coordinate with your silk flowers and curly ribbons. Actually, in lieu of flowers, you could buy loads of curly ribbons in pretty colors and wrap them around your poles, and let them curl randomly all over the place. A few color coordinated helium balloons wouldn't hurt, either.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:57 AM on May 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Pie pops!

Get the inside booth if you think it's going to rain. Rain + cake = MUSH.

Going with the theme suggestion, maybe something a la Marie Antoinette? "Let them eat cake!"

LOVE the frosting shot idea! Maybe some kind of raw dough shot? Nothing with eggs in it, I suppose, since you wouldn't want to get anyone sick. Raw cookie dough is huge on this side of the pond. But if you can somehow evoke the childhood memories of baking with grandma, people will eat that up (pun intended!).

You can usually find old jars second hand. Not sure what the thrift stores/yard sales/etc. are like in the UK, but you could ask around at work, church, etc., too.

Sounds like a lot of fun!
posted by wwartorff at 9:04 AM on May 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm trying to find a link to the fudge I bought last year at a craft show... I thought maybe it was a common martha-stewart-type thing but I'm having no luck finding an image. Anyway, it was pastel fudge, made from white chocolate, somehow made in an angel food? cake tin so a slice was cut like cake, very tall and thin. The colors were amazing: pale lime, pale orange, pale raspberry, swirls of other colors mixed in. Each one was a different flavor. Really I bought several slices just because it was so pretty.

All the flavors were displayed on cake stands under glass domes and looked like pastel layer cakes. Gorgeous. The good thing about fudge is you can make it in advance.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 9:11 AM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Produce a few test cakes the weekend before, and make sure you can easily eat them while standing up, and without cutlery, if that's what you expect your customers to do.

Hello Cupcake is a book about decorating cupcakes. It contains some interesting ideas.

Partly it was because two cookies are cheaper than a whole cake, and partly because, with everyone on a diet these days, they could justify themselves a little treat a lot easier than a whole cake.

I once heard about a fast food retailer who discontinued their (rarely-purchased) largest burger, and found that the sales of their previously second-largest (now largest) burger dropped and sales of their previously third largest (now second largest) burger increased.

It was hypothesized that you can attract people's attention with the largest product, then when people say "ooh, but I shouldn't" they will opt for the slightly smaller/cheaper second-largest product.

You could consider having a few extra-large products, anticipating that they will not sell, but to attract attention to your other produce.
posted by Mike1024 at 9:23 AM on May 20, 2010

It was hypothesized that you can attract people's attention with the largest product, then when people say "ooh, but I shouldn't" they will opt for the slightly smaller/cheaper second-largest product.

Yes, this. I've read several articles lately about how restaurants do this on their menus - they prominently display an extremely expensive item, knowing you won't order it, but it will make everything else look cheaper by comparison.
posted by MexicanYenta at 9:35 AM on May 20, 2010

Don't try and make as many things as you suggested in the question. If you aren't a professional baker making a lot of cake is a slow process. Remember that you can use the same batter for cakes and cupcakes, so that's a good way to increase your selection without too much extra overhead.

Are you allowed to do something like a raffle? You could raffle one fancy item and guarantee 100% of the raffle sales would go to the charity. (This might fit well with the largest item psychology above.)

I really, really hate to say this, but as a one time event how the stuff looks is probably more important tan how it tastes. Beautiful and decent is probably better than blemished and delectable.
posted by ecurtz at 9:51 AM on May 20, 2010

Cupcakes can be packaged nicely by using a punch cup then placed in a cellophane bag and then tied either with ribbon or a nice twist tie.

I suggest this because I hesitate buying at bake sales if I think items have been handled poorly or I am unable to take the item home with me conveniently.

Further advantages include being able to display cupcakes more easily, as in a large basket, or enable your buyers to present cupcakes as gifts later. It looks festive and it makes people feel that they are getting a beautiful treat; wrapping adds delicious anticipation and a ceremony.
posted by jadepearl at 10:18 AM on May 20, 2010

Response by poster: You guys, this is all amazing and EXACTLY what I was hoping for! I love the idea of the garlands above the table, and the baskets of produce, and the pyschology of sizing (seriously?! never ever thought about that!).

I agree my menu is probably too varied - cupcakes (sparkly!), things in trays and cute packaged cookies sound like the plan at the moment.

Re-reading my slightly panicked question, I am thinking about making a stall-name banner reading "Beanplate Cupcakes".
posted by citands at 10:59 AM on May 20, 2010

I love bake sales. I like packaged stuff, so I can buy an assortment to take home or to work. Having a few spare paper bags is a good idea. I like small portions, so I can try several different things without getting all sugared up. Tiny, cute things, like mini-cupcakes, mini-scones, etc., are appealing. Brownies baked in mini-muffin pans, so they have a high edge:center ratio. I like foods that are sort of healthy, like whole wheat scones with apricots and almonds. Make sure cupcakes are in liners. I would totally buy cakes-in-a-jar or those pie pops.

I think you should call it Internet Cupcakes; people will stop by and ask about the name.
posted by theora55 at 2:19 PM on May 20, 2010

« Older Change is good. But how does it work? In hockey.   |   Where should I live? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.